Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with another report from SXSW.
South By brought us the premiere of Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, a doc by Rodman Flender following the popular late night host immediately after getting the boot from The Tonight Show. It’s a fairly uncompromised look at O’Brien working through his anger at NBC for renigging on the deal as he gears up for his nation-wide live show.
As part of his rather large severance package he was under contract to not appear on television in any way shape or form for 6 months, so Conan rolled his creative energies into traveling around the country (and even to Canada, eh) with his band, Andy Richter and his core group of writers, assistants and creative collaborators.
I jokingly tweeted that Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is like This Is It, but Conan doesn’t die at the end (spoiler). My poor attempt at humor aside that sums up my initial impression of the movie. O’Brien is an incredibly funny dude, there are huge laughs throughout, but underneath all that is a Puttin’ On A Show feel.
The big surprise is that the doc isn’t at all precious about O’Brien as a subject. Conan acts like a huge dick at times… especially towards Jack McBrayer for some reason. The man comes to visit Conan backstage at one of the shows and O’Brien constantly rips into his hickishness. At first McBrayer plays along, but you can tell after the 14th white-trash joke that it’s kinda getting to him.
It’s odd to see such a candid look at the man as he uses his humor to deal with the rejection he just went through, sometimes making light of the situation, sometimes lashing out at the people around him (literally in the case of one of his writers who constantly gets punched in the arm throughout the doc), including his really cute assistant who comes off like a heroine by the end of the doc. Seriously, afterwards Conan shouted out to her from the stage and when she stood up and took a bow the place went crazy for her.
Before I give the impression that this is just a dark look at the serious side of comedy, I must state emphatically that the movie is laugh at loud funny and consistently so. If there was ever any doubt as to why O’Brien is successful at his job it would be washed away by this portrait of the man behind the hair. In his day to day life his personality that we all know via TV is who he is. His sharp wit and goof-ball energy is present in every frame of the doc, even when he’s at his lowest.
I will not ruin too many of the funnies, but I gotta make mention of one scene that I was shocked to see made it into the doc. Early on O’Brien laughs off some offers for a new show, including one from TBS. He says something to the effect of “TBS? Yeah, why not Animal Planet?” As many of you know, TBS is ultimately where he ended up, but instead of just leaving that on the cutting room floor and playing it safe politically it’s front and center in the doc.
Flow, tone, humor, photography… all really gel together to make a very fun, entertaining flick that might just work for people not Facebook friends with Team CoCo. It’s not surprising to me that both theatrical and home video/VOD rights were both picked up for this flick days after its premiere. It’s a crowd pleaser like nobody’s business and what’s even better is it’s not a blowjob to its subject so there’s not guilt for enjoying what could have easily been a giant fluff piece.